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American Forces Press Service

Vice Chairman Honors Legacy of Naval Aviation

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2011 – Days after celebrating the 50th anniversary of USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hosted a video conference last night with commanders of the Navy’s newest carrier, USS George H.W. Bush, during a gala commemorating the centennial of naval aviation.

Navy Adm. James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr. treated attendees to a live conversation with the USS George H.W. Bush’s leaders a day after the carrier passed through the Strait of Gibraltar en route to its Norfolk, Va., home port after its first combat deployment.

Navy Rear Adm. Nora W. Tyson, commander of Carrier Strike Group 2, which Winnefeld commanded from 2004 to 2006, reported a successful deployment that allowed the state-of-the-art carrier and its crew to shine.

Winnefeld noted that the crew conducted more than 2,200 combat sorties in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the region and Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

Tyson, a naval aviation pioneer as the first woman to command a carrier strike group, said this performance reflects the capability carrier strike groups deliver. They provide a forward presence, she said, and an ability to respond quickly to promote security, prosperity and vital U.S. interests around the world. "In my opinion, the carrier strike group is and will remain for the foreseeable future an important instrument of our national security," she said.

Navy Capt. Brian "Lex" Luther, USS George H.W. Bush's commanding officer, praised the crew members who continue to live up to the standard set by the carrier's namesake from the "greatest generation."

"This spirit makes them the greatest of this generation," he said.

"They are proud to be part of the legacy," agreed Navy Capt. Jeffrey A. "Jack" Davis, commander of Carrier Air Wing 8, embarked on the carrier. "Like the naval aviators before them, they are the nation's best."

Davis achieved a personal milestone during a deployment, completing his 1,000th flight deck landing, or "trap," aboard USS George H.W. Bush in August.

Winnefeld, a career naval aviator, said the celebration of the" heart and spirit and honor and courage and commitment of naval aviation" can't overlook its most vital component.

"Our top weapon system, our ready-on-arrival platform, one that delivers time and time again and answers our nation's call, the true secret to our success, of course, is our people," he said.

Naval aviation -- which includes Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard air operations -- is a community effort, he emphasized. It includes not only air crews, but also the maintainers at all levels and ship's companies who work tirelessly to keep these aircraft safely airborne. Also key are industry partners who have driven innovation for the past century and will continue to do so into the future.

But behind the scenes, the admiral added, it all hinges on families, whom he called "the true strength behind our uniform and our service and our enterprise."

Winnefeld got an opportunity to thank some of the pioneers behind this effort earlier this week when he visited USS Enterprise for its 50th anniversary celebration.

Known throughout the fleet as "The Big E," Enterprise was commissioned in Newport News, Va., on Nov. 25, 1961. The one-of-a-kind vessel, considered by many to be a marvel of modern engineering, is the only carrier in the Navy's fleet powered by eight nuclear reactors.

Beginning with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Enterprise has served in almost every U.S. armed conflict since its commissioning.

Speaking at the Nov. 28 anniversary commemoration, Winnefeld told dozens of “plank owners” – original crew members -- and current and former Enterprise sailors and officers that he first laid eyes on the carrier he would later command on a National Geographic magazine cover in 1963.

"I remember thinking, 'There's something special about that,'" he told the group.

Little did he know at the time that he would lead "Big E" through its 18th deployment, which included combat operations in Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

Now scheduled to make its 22nd and final deployment this spring, Enterprise is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2015. Winnefeld its legacy set the standard for the future.

"I can only stand here and wonder what the next Enterprise will be," he said.

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